OPPONENTS of Common Core often claim that its academic standards represent a federal takeover of schools. No real evidence exists to support that claim. Instead, the initiative most likely to increase federal control of Oklahoma schools is actually the move to repeal state Common Core math and language arts standards.
Here’s why: Oklahoma was granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. The waiver was based in part on the state adopting either Common Core academic standards or equally rigorous alternatives. Immediate repeal of Common Core standards could therefore result in the loss of that waiver. The consequences would be dramatic.
Under NCLB, schools failing to meet certain student-achievement benchmarks lose control of up to 20 percent of Title I funds, federal cash used for low-income children. More than 1,700 of 1,784 Oklahoma schools have yet to meet those benchmarks.
“We applied for a waiver, which allows us to continue to use our Title I money at the district’s discretion,” said Amber England, government affairs director of the Oklahoma branch of Stand for Children. “If we lose our No Child Left Behind waiver, 20 percent of Title I funds will be directed by the feds.” Thus, she notes, Common Core repeal means lawmakers would be “ceding more federal control,” not increasing local control.
Some schools use Title I funds for teacher salaries, so Common Core repeal could translate into teacher layoffs. In addition, state government and local districts have spent millions implementing Common Core standards since 2010. If lawmakers order an immediate repeal, “all that money goes out the window.”
Stand for Children, which works to ensure all children have access to a quality education, has been a vocal supporter of Common Core standards. In a meeting with The Oklahoman’s editorial board, the group warned the unintended consequences of repeal aren’t limited to finances.
For teachers, repeal would mean they wasted three years implementing Common Core standards, only to be undermined at the last minute. England says such disrespect and instability could lead more teachers to leave the profession in a state already facing a teacher shortage.
“When teachers don’t know what’s expected of them, they’re less likely to want to stay in a hard environment and work,” she said.
Some lawmakers appear aware of these problems. Although a bill passed the House calling for revision of the standards, it delayed that process until 2016 when a review was already scheduled. The bill also requires any new standards adopted to essentially match or exceed Common Core standards. Those provisions are intended to preserve Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver.
Still, given the potential for enormous negative consequences, why push this change at all? Although lawmakers voted in 2010 to adopt Common Core standards, some now claim massive voter opposition has prompted a reassessment. Yet polling shows the majority of Oklahomans have no strong feelings about the standards. Only 29 percent hold unfavorable views. Once voters are given a straightforward description of the standards, 78 percent shift to a favorable view. And opponents rarely criticize the actual standards. Most opposition is based on innuendo, conjecture, misinformation and disinformation.
It would be beyond ironic if, in responding to the unfounded fears of a minority about federal control, state lawmakers actually opened the door for far greater federal control of Oklahoma schools while wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and undermining teachers in the process.